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Psychedelic medicines appear to help treat another mental health condition, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). This news follows evidence from research that psilocybin and MDMA will change how PTSD and depression are treated. It also comes in addition to early research for treatment of substance abuse disorders with psychedelic medicines. It would seem that psychedelics might be useful for treating OCD because of the similarity of PTSD and OCD in how the brain gets trapped in a feedback loop and psychedelics help free it. An interesting aspect of this study was that psychedelics for treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder work even when the psychedelic experience is blocked.

What Is OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental health condition seen across all ages and all segments of society. People become trapped in a cycle of obsessively thinking about something and then compulsively acting in a certain way. The person uses the compulsive action to relieve fear and anxiety but it only works in the short term. Thus the cycle continually repeats itself. The obsessive thoughts a person has are intrusive and unwanted. They may include images, urges, or thoughts and are extremely distressing. The compulsions a person has are to do things like cry out, pull their hair, or any act that temporarily relieves their distress. While all of this makes sense in the context of the person’s distress, the actions are typically seen as unhealthy, weird, or even crazy by others.

What Is OCD?

Psilocybin and OCD

Psilocybin can help treat OCD in several ways. Its interaction with serotonin receptors in the brain can help block OCD at the brain level by blocking selected receptors in specific areas of the brain. Because psilocybin can create permanent changes in the brain’s wiring (neurons and nerve branches) it can help permanently block or remove the unhealthy interactions that are the basis of OCD. A way to measure the degree of OCD is via error related negativity which is a brainwave pattern. After taking psilocybin, error related negativity is diminished. Self-referential thinking resides in the default node network of the brain and that this area experiences increased connectivity after taking psilocybin. The bottom line is that psilocybin has been shown to be effective in treating obsessive compulsive disorder.

Do Psychedelics Need the “Trip” to Be Effective?

One of the interesting aspects of a recent animal study using psilocybin to treat obsessive compulsive disorder had to do with whether or not a mystical or spiritual experience is necessary for the medicine to work. One way to block the psychedelic effects of psilocybin is to give a test subject buspirone. This medicine is used to treat anxiety and to help people stop smoking. It appears to reliably block the hallucinogenic response to taking psilocybin. The researchers tested to see if taking buspirone along with psilocybin still helped treat OCD but did so without the test subject having the typical spiritual or mystical experience.

We have previously written about how researchers are looking to see if they can synthesize psychedelic medicines that work to treat conditions like PTSD and depression but do not cause a psychedelic experience. It turns out that in the cases of PTSD and depression the experience seems to be necessary to initiate the person’s recovery from these mental health conditions. The study of psilocybin treatment along with buspirone was designed to see if this is also the case with OCD.

Do Psychedelics Need the "Trip" to Be Effective?

Psilocybin Helps OCD Even with Psychedelic Effects Blocked

Animal subjects in the study in question showed marked improvement in OCD behaviors despite having been given buspirone along with psilocybin. Buspirone has been shown to block hallucinogenic trip of psilocybin both in prior animal studies and in human research. The researchers were investigating psilocybin for treating OCD because more than a third of OCD patients do not get any better with standard treatments. An issue with psilocybin treatment is the need for a controlled setting due to the psychedelic experience. The researchers wanted to find out if it was possible to achieve OCD improvement with psilocybin and not need to have a patient sequestered for a day while they experience the hallucinogenic effects of the medicine.

In the animal study in question they saw that OCD behaviors were reduced or eliminated by taking psilocybin despite the subjects being given buspirone which blocked any hallucinogenic effects. This work can be continued in human subjects in order to fine tune treatments of patients suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.

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